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Who’s in and who’s out as Conservative party critics under Poilievre’s leadership

Well-known caucus members Ed Fast and Michelle Rempel Garner are off the list
Conservative leadership hopeful Pierre Poilievre, left, smiles as he takes part in the Conservative Party of Canada French-language leadership debate in Laval, Quebec on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

In an effort to send a message of unity, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has welcomed two former leadership rivals to serve as critics in Parliament — but he has also left out two of the party’s more prominent names.

Ontario members of Parliament Scott Aitchison and Leslyn Lewis are among the group of 51 Tory MPschosen to go head-to-head with Liberal government ministers on certain files, according to a list Poilievre’s office released Wednesday.

But well-known caucus members Ed Fast and Michelle Rempel Garner are off the list.

Poilievre unveiled his picks more than a month after winning the Conservative leadership race with the support of nearly 70 per cent of party members.

Since then, Poilievre has driven a hard economic message in the House of Commons, which is currently on a one-week break.

All told, Poilievre tapped 51 of his MPs to serve as full critics and another 20 to be “associate critics,” which means he gave roles to 71 of the party’s 117 other MPs. That’s more than the 62 who supported him to become leader.

Poilievre unveiled his picks in a brief statement released Wednesday, in which he said his team will focus on “inflation-busting” and fighting Liberal government policies such as carbon pricing.

He tapped Aitchison, who placed last in the leadership race, to take on the housing file. Lewis, who finished a distant third, will become the party’s infrastructure critic.

Many had been curious to see what Poilievre would do with Lewis, who is seen as a somewhat complicated figure.

On one hand, she hails from the well-organized social conservative wing of the party, popular with its grassroots and those who oppose abortion. On the other hand, during the race, Lewis raised eyebrows with her forceful opposition to the World Economic Forum — a global entity that has been the subject of many conspiracy theories during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the lead-up to his decision, some anti-abortion political organizations urged Poilievre to give Lewis a critic role as a sign of respect to the social conservative base.

Poilievre is entrusting his old job to Alberta MP Jasraj Singh Hallan.

Hallan was first elected in 2019 and takes over as the party’s finance critic, the role Poilievre held before he became leader in September — one that helped him grow his profile.

“I am an immigrant who was an at-risk youth,” the MP tweeted. “Our leader has been very clear he wants everyone to have the same opportunities to succeed as we both had coming from humble beginnings.”

Hallan had been serving as the Conservatives’ immigration critic and is among the diverse faces Poilievre has placed in high-profile roles.

Fellow Alberta MP and former Conservative cabinet minister Tim Uppal, whose family emigrated from India, currently serves as one of its deputy leaders, along with Melissa Lantsman.

Lantsman, a former party activist, was first elected last year. She hails from the Greater Toronto Area, where the Tories hope to grow support, and is a lesbian and one of the party’s younger MPs.

Poilievre picked Ontario MP Marilyn Gladu to take on a new role as critic for civil liberties.Gladu was among the party’s many MPs who spoke out against the Ottawa’s federal mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates, almost all of which have now been lifted.

And Poilievre selected Gérard Deltell to serve as critic on climate change and the environment. The well-known Quebec MP had endorsed the province’s former premier, Jean Charest, in the leadership contest.

Those who didn’t make the cut include longtime British Columbia MP Ed Fast, who also backed Charest.

Fast, who became finance critic while Poilievre was running for leader, resigned after he ruffled some feathers inside caucus by criticizing the front-runner. He said Poilievre’s vow to fire the Bank of Canada governor was an irresponsible economic policy.

Fast has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Also not included on Poilievre’s front bench is Alberta MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who supported Patrick Brown before his disqualification from the leadership race.

The longtime MP has been without a critic role for months. She considered running for leadership of Alberta’s governing United Conservative Party, but ultimately decided not to.

A spokeswoman from Rempel Garner’s office provided a statement Wednesday saying the MP is “proud to be part of a party that is fighting to lower the cost of living for Canadians and looks forward to supporting her colleagues in their mandates.”

“There is no room for ego in public service, only hard work, and that’s what Michelle intends to do,” wrote Jillian Montalbetti, her director of communications.

Former leader Erin O’Toole, who is still sitting as an Ontario MP after getting voted out by his caucus last February,is also absent from the list. O’Toole recently told the National Post that he asked Poilievre not to give him a critic role.

“Mr. O’Toole’s focus will remain his riding and issues that he thinks are very important to the country,” his spokeswoman Clarissa Schurter wrote Wednesday.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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